Hitler’s Collaborators

by Philip Morgan, OUP, 366pp, £20

History is read backwards, but lived forwards. The historian must remember what we often forget – that events that are now in the past were once in the future. We all know that the Battle of France was lost in the early summer of 1940. We have to try to remember that nobody then knew what would follow, but made decisions in ignorance of whatever consequences they might have.

It is the first great merit of Philip Morgan’s study of collaboration in the five Western European states defeated and occupied by Germany in 1940 that he never forgets this. He recognises that in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway the essential question was: “What do you do when you have lost a war?”

Ordinary citizens will mostly just try to make the best of it, and get on with everyday life as far as this is possible. Politicians, state officials and the police, can’t opt out; they have to come to terms of some sort with the occupier. Collaboration is of necessity forced on them. In 1940, it was reasonable to assume that Germany had won the war. Nobody knew how long the occupation would last.

Morgan has previously written about European, and especially Italian, fascism. Now he makes a useful distinction between “collaborationists” and “collaborators”.

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